Predictably, the Bottineau light rail line proposal is back on the front burner for the Golden Valley City Council, and the local political heavyweights are putting on a full court press to get Golden Valley to go along with their preferred routing alternative through Wirth Park and Mary Hill Nature Area (affectionately known as "D-1"). At the recent Council/City Manager meeting they showed up in force, including Hennepin County Commissioner Jan Callison, Commissioner-elect Linda Higgins, and Met Council member James Brimeyer. A very few members of the public were there, since the meeting was poorly publicized, and none had an opportunity to speak. Fortunately, the council wisely decided to have a public hearing on November 28 before voting again.
The Bottineau light rail process is ensnarled in an web of committees, commissions, study groups, advisory committees and other bureaucratic creatures that have produced a nearly impenetrable blizzard of acronyms. The complexity is mindboggling, even for the government. One cannot help but wonder if this is intentional so that those who try to fight the inexorable push to approve the line give up in frustration. It also seems to be diabolically designed to produce decisions that make no sense in the broad perspective, but serve to mollify the parochial interests or misguided beliefs of many special interests.
Boiled down, here is what the council was told: the failure to approve the D-1 route as the Locally Preferred Alternative (the "LPA") will kill the Bottineau line - the Met Council will no longer continue its studies and other work to pursue the whole project. But if the council changes its vote and approves the LPA, it merely means that the Met Council will continue the studies – specifically a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and preliminary engineering – on both D-1 and D-2 (the route through north Minneapolis). Without Golden Valley's approval, we are told, there will also be no federal funds for the project. If Golden Valley votes yes, after these studies are done Golden Valley will have another opportunity to say no to D-1 when "municipal consent" to the line must be given. The council was assured that both alternatives (plus two alternative for the northern routing of the line) would get equal attention in the study process. This of course begs the question of why one alternative is designated as "preferred." Why are the cities along the way not endorsing "Locally Acceptable Options" or some such. The answer is obvious: even if the others are studied, only D-1 will get serious consideration. Words have meaning, even when a bureaucrat tells you they mean something else. Plus the other alternatives have already been eliminated by all the governmental entities having a say in the project.
So what's the problem? Golden Valley can just say yes now, let the process continue, and say no if we don't like it later, right? If we don't say yes now, the whole project will die, and it will be all our fault. Well, there are lots of problems – here are a few. First, municipal consent will be almost impossible to turn down in the future, after more years of study, all the other communities doing their planning based on the D-1 route, and (if the SW corridor is any indication) over $4 million is spent on the EIS and other preparations for the route. Second, if Golden Valley doesn't like the route now, why would anyone expect the route to be acceptable in the future? Those who promote the idea that a few mitigations "addressing concerns" will take care of our fundamental objections to the proposed D-1 route are either naïve or disingenuous. Let's review some of the reasons D-1 is a bad idea:
- It will fundamentally alter the nature of Wirth Park, Wirth Parkway and Golden Valley Road, all to the worse;
- It will destroy the Mary Hills Nature Area (and "destroy" is the right word – Mary Hills will for all intents and purposes be gone);
- It will put a station at Golden Valley Road that will cost millions and few people will use (note the proposed Ramsey station on the Northstar line - $13 million for 200 additional daily riders, or $65,000 per person – the numbers on a GV Road station will probably be worse);
- It will not serve any transportation or development needs for Golden Valley residents – most GV residents live too far from the Golden Valley Road station, and the area is not in need of any redevelopment.
- It will do nothing to help north Minneapolis, which is in desperate need of both transportation and redevelopment. The long-term benefits of the line to north Minneapolis could be huge – look at the development along the Hiawatha route after 8 years – but will never happen if D-1 is built.
A few sound barriers and a bus running from Broadway and Penn to the Golden Valley Road station are not going to solve any of these fundamental problems.
Finally, as the Met Council representative pointed out at the Council/Manager meeting, the studies have not stopped – the EIS is being prepared, and visioning meetings are going on in other cities along the proposed route. People seem to be convinced Golden Valley will ultimately knuckle under.
So far that has not happened: three council members voted against the approval last summer (and in spite of his yes vote Mayor Shep Harris has said publicly that he believes D-1 is the wrong choice). But they are under tremendous political pressure from outside Golden Valley, and they need your guidance and support. Please contact your city council members to express your feelings, and come to the public hearing on November 28.
The sky will not fall, the world will not end, and Bottineau will almost certainly not die, if the Golden Valley City Council does not approve the D-1 route. The planners of Bottineau – all the committees, commissions, advisory boards, and the like, and all the cities along the route – need to step back and think hard about the future. They need to think not five or even 10 years ahead, but 20, 50 and 100 years down the road, for a light rail line will be there for a very long time. If the Golden Valley City Council makes them do that now, and forces a smarter routing decision, the whole region will benefit in the long run.